Downturn of the Cards
On Sunday afternoon, an hour before kickoff at the Meadowlands, Giant radio commentator Dick Lynch, a New York defensive back from 1959 to '66, encountered Cardinal owner Bill Bidwill in the press box. "You're looking good," Bidwill said to the 59-year-old Lynch. "We may sign you as a free agent."
Please, Bill, do it. Start signing some football players—any football players. And, for good measure, take your team away from coach Buddy Ryan. Or at least strip him of his responsibility for evaluating personnel. Do it for your fans, Bill.
It's time to evaluate Ryan. Here are the numbers, six games into his second season in Arizona: nine wins, 13 losses; 0-4 in the NFC East this year; five different starting quarterbacks in 22 games; and a total of 51,323 empty seats in two games at Sun Devil Stadium this season. After 20 months the honeymoon with Ryan is over, and it would be astounding to see Bidwill keep him on after this season. Not that Ryan will go quietly. "Hell yeah, I want to stay," he said after the latest debacle, a 27-21 overtime loss to the Giants on Sunday that dropped the Cardinals to 1-5. "I didn't come here for the short haul."
Bidwill will have to pay dearly to overhaul his organization upon Ryan's departure because Ryan has filled job after job with relatives and cronies. Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons, the bookend pass-rushing stars imported in 1994 from Ryan's previous team, the Eagles, cost the Cards a collective $29.9 million for matching five-year contracts, and they have contributed three sacks this season. Two of Ryan's sons, Rex and Rob, are defensive assistants; a third, Jim, an agent, got a former backup offensive lineman with the Lions, Larry Tharpe, an over-market-price $1 million contract with Arizona this spring. Five of the 61 players under contract with Arizona are from Division I-AA Tennessee State, where Rob was an assistant for five seasons before taking his first NFL coaching job, under his dad. Wendall Gaines, the tight end who dropped a pass on the first play of the overtime period on Sunday, is playing the position for the first time since high school. He happens to be from Ryan's hometown, Frederick, Okla.
Linebacker Jamir Miller and running back Chuck Levy, the top two Cardinal picks in Ryan's first draft for Arizona, in 1994, have been suspended for substance abuse this year (Miller for four games, Levy for the entire season). Ryan chose five defensive backs—a position where he sorely needed help—in his two drafts, and only one of them, Tito Paul, is on the active roster now. He tried to sneak guard Rich Braham through waivers last year, and the Bengals gobbled him up. Ryan ran off Walter Reeves and Derek Ware, two tight ends who are now getting lots of playing time with the Browns and the Bengals, respectively.
As for the play of Ryan's charges, check out the Chiefs' 24-3 rout of the Cards on Oct. 1. Early in the second quarter, the game was scoreless and Kansas City had a third-and-one on its 24-yard line. Arizona moved everyone near the line in anticipation of a run by Marcus Allen. Chief quarterback Steve Bono faked to Allen and bootlegged around right end. No Cardinal came near him during a 76-yard touchdown jog, the longest by a quarterback in NFL history. "You could have timed me with an hourglass," Bono said later. The next K.C. touchdown was set up when Arizona punt returner Marcus Dowdell let the ball squirt through his legs. The Chiefs' third touchdown was facilitated by two 15-yard unnecessary-roughness penalties against the Cardinals.
On Sunday, Ryan's vaunted defense crumbled in the clutch again. That a Ryan-coached team is last in the NFL against the run (in part, it should be said, because star tackle Eric Swann is out with a knee injury) is shocking, as is the fact that the Giants rushed for 186 yards. Afterward, the Cardinals seemed stunned. Simmons sat, head in his hands, waving off questioners. Joyner shook his head. "When I came here last year," he said, "nobody envisioned this team being this drab. I can't explain it. Whenever the Giants needed to move the ball down the field today, they did it methodically, five yards at a clip."
There are even questions about Ryan's desire. Joyner told the Arizona Republic last week that he feels Ryan has softened. On Sunday, Fox commentator Terry Bradshaw said he thought Ryan was simply mailing it in. "He's crazy," Ryan said in response to Bradshaw's remark. "Have him follow me around for a week and see how I work. I've been coaching the same for 50 years. Mailing it in—that's ridiculous." Right now, the Cardinals are ridiculous, too.
Stats of the Week